Here you are in that moment where you have scolded your child for doing something unsafe or for disobeying a rule. Maybe the result of a denied request is an impulsive, angry tantrum put on by your child. You do your best to keep your cool during the “I hate you” and “You never loved me” verbal assaults during their outburst. When still not getting what they want, resorting to more personal insults or perhaps negative self talk like “I’m just stupid” and “I wish I wasn’t alive”. As hard as you try, it often seems near impossible to get a handle on these moments. Beneath your anger over the disrespect there is sadness. Sadness about the fact that you know that you’re a better parent than what is being reflected, and a shame over the judgments of others who don’t understand what it’s like to have a child with ADHD.
A Simple Step to Success
What if there was a key to allow for an alternate ending to this repeated short dramatic story?
Here is a tip that has been successful for some of my child ADHD clients and their parents. It is a simple step to take to help re-engage the logical portion of your child’s brain when they are stuck in an emotional state.
- First, what you need to understand as a parent is that children, ADHD children especially, feel horrible about those events after they are over.
- The idea with this tip is to create a nonjudgmental trigger to help the child become present to the moment and to his or her actions, and then give them the opportunity to make a choice for a more successful outcome.
- Success here, being an outcome that does not end up with angry parents, increased consequences, or more hurt feelings on anyone’s part.
- This is a chance for him or her to have a positive effect on the outcome of their life which will create “feel good” chemicals in the brain, stamping the experience into memory, thus giving them a better chance of repeating the successful behavior.
ADHD Kids Live in the Moment
We have to remember as parents of ADHD children, that our kids only live in the moment because of the difficulty controlling impulsiveness. They are not able to remember what the consequences were the last time this happened, and are unable to foresee what consequences will arise from current actions. When emotions are involved, all there is, is now and all the emotions they so strongly feel. So, we have to be creative in teaching them how to be present and centered allowing it to be possible for them to successfully pull up that information again in the future.
The Pause Button
The idea with this tip is to create a pause. With ADHD, the “pause”, or being present or mindful is a key element in management of impulsiveness.
- First, when the time is right, have an honest and supportive discussion with your child. Talk about how they feel after one of their outbursts. Chances are if they feel comfortable telling you, you will learn how disappointed they feel in themselves and they would rather do something that offers a better outcome and feels better emotionally.
- Next, offer up the idea of a “magic word”. This word is to be used as a trigger to get your child’s brain to pause. The word can be anything as long as it is agreed upon ahead of time and your child understands what it’s for. Make sure your child is part of choosing the word. This puts them in a position to be responsible for the change as well. The best words are nonjudgmental, simple words. Words that are humorous often have the best effect.
The purpose of the word is to be a tool, or a reminder to your child of their own goals for creating positive outcomes, not as a measure of control over them. It may not work perfectly the first few times, so it’s important to discuss the goal again after everyone has calmed down, and be supportive in making it into a learning experience.
It would look something like this, and the word for this example is “banana”.
Something occurs (you told him/her they couldn’t play his favorite video game before dinner) that triggers an impulsive tantrum from your child. You quickly see it building like so many before. You don’t engage in arguing. Calmly getting their attention you say “BANANA”, and nothing else.
This is the interrupt or the pause while the brain tries to process how “banana” fits into its current operation. Now is when the opportunity for the memory of your child’s goal for a better outcome comes to the front of their mind. A memory to pause that has been attached to the word “banana”.